With the game on the line — literally at the line — the big showdown turned out to be a dream for the Lynden Christian girls and a nightmare for Lynden.
Sophomore Libby Stump sank four free throws in the final 17 seconds to give the Lyncs a 37-34 victory over the Lions in a packed Lynden gym on Thursday night, Jan. 30.
“I’m happy for the girls,” said LC coach Brady Bomber. “Our composure (at the end) was really good tonight. And Libby makes four big ones … She’s been dreaming about that for a long time.”
For how long?
“For forever,” said Stump, who finished with 8 points, all in the critical fourth period. “I was just trying not to think about it, to turn off my brain and focus on what I’m doing. It felt amazing.”
Lynden and Lynden Christian joined together Thursday night in the Coaches vs. Cancer game to raise awareness and funds for the battle against the disease. Cancer survivors Triston Tjoelker of Lynden and John Berendsen of Lynden Christian shared their emotional stories with the crowd before the game and were named honorary coaches for their teams.
Thursday night’s contest wasn’t just between crosstown rivals or even the two best teams in the Northwest Conference. It was a battle between two of the best teams in the state.
Lynden Christian is the No.2-ranked Class 1A team in the state with a 16-1 record, an 11-game winning streak, and a 10-0 league mark. Victories in their last three games would give LC its sixth league title in the last seven years.
Lynden, the No.1-ranked Class 2A team, suffered its first loss of the season and is now 15-1 overall and 8-1 in league. The defeat snapped the Lions’ 17-game winning streak going back to last season and is only their second loss in their last 34 games.
If there was anything surprising, it was that two of the best offenses in the state were held to their lowest point totals of the season … surprising until you realize that they also are two of the best defenses.
“Both teams are really good defensively,” said Bomber. “You don’t get any easy ones. If we played them 10 times, we’d each win five. One bounce, one call, one shot going the other way …”
Lynden coach Rob Adams agreed, but gave Lynden Christian credit.
“Our defensive effort was phenomenal,” said Adams. “We gave ourselves a chance to win, and we couldn’t finish. And they did a great job of putting it in the hands of their finishers … and they finished.”
For most of the night it was a struggle to score with both teams playing tight man-to-man and contesting every shot. The Lyncs led 21-12 at the half, but were held to two points in the third quarter as the Lions woke up and rallied to go up 29-25 with just over five minutes left.
But then the Lyncs’ “finishers” took over.
While Lynden was committing three straight turnovers, Stump put in a rebound, and senior Riley Dykstra hit a 3-pointer and an inside bucket to give LC a three-point lead it would hold until there were 30 seconds left.
Forced to foul, the Lions could only watch as Emily Mellema made one free throw and Stump made her four, all coming in one-and-one situations.
Ruby VanderHaak tried to give Lynden a miracle finish, sinking two free throws and a 3-pointer in the last 19 seconds to give the Lions one last chance. But her 3-point attempt at the buzzer was tipped and all that was left was for the LC faithful to storm the court.
“We came back in the second half and played with our heart and the intensity we needed to play with,” said VanderHaak, who led the Lions with 11 points, including 8 in the final quarter. “Now we know we can come back from anything.”
Liv Tjoelker added 9 points on three 3-pointers for Lynden, but it was the Lions’ free throw shooting that doomed their chances. They were a nightmarish 7 of 18, which was below even their normal average of 46 percent.
The Lyncs, meanwhile, were hitting 13 of 14 free throws for 93 percent. None were bigger than Stump’s four at the end.
“I know how hard it is with everyone screaming,” said Dykstra, who has been part of four Lynden-LC battles and who led all scorers Thursday night with 16 points. “I’m super proud of Libby.”
It was, as they say, a dream come true.